GKSOM Alum captures first place in national competition

GKSOM Alum captures first place in national competition

calendar icon09 Jan 2018    user iconBy Brian G. Reetz

Nathaniel Sullivan
Nathaniel Sullivan

Winning a recent national competition reinforced a life philosophy for University of Nebraska-Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music alum Nathaniel Sullivan -- that being open to all opportunities and styles of music will be a key to a successful life and career.

Sullivan won first place in the 2018 National Music Theater Competition this past weekend in midtown Manhattan. He collected a $5,000 cash award along with other prizes and opportunities. But maybe even more importantly, he learned something about himself.

“For me, this particular competition is an exciting opportunity to begin pursuing new and undiscovered aspects of my career,” Sullivan said. “Since graduating from UNL in 2014 (with a bachelor of music in vocal performance degree), I have almost exclusively focused on my development as a classical singer. I’ve worked on opera, art song, chamber music, and oratorio, but until I registered for the NATS competition, I had sort of put musical theatre on hold.”

This win was a twofold reminder for Sullivan, “that I can and should begin seeking out opportunities in the musical theatre world (especially since I’m living in the heart of it here), and also that the work I’ve done within the classical repertoire applies to musical theatre performance as well. I think a lot of students and professionals alike approach the two styles from totally different places...which is valid in a sense. They are different styles, of course. But one of the things I appreciated most about my time at UNL, and specifically about my studies with Alisa Belflower, is that I acquired the philosophy that one style can inform and improve the other, in both directions.”

He won the Presser Undergraduate Scholar in 2013 while at Nebraska. He also performed in Celebration of American Song as well as roles in UNL Operas “Candide”, “Albert Herring” and “Big Red Sun”. Sullivan is currently living in New York City, up in Washington Heights with all the other newly graduated young artists. He sings with a “great” church choir on Sundays, at the Brick Presbyterian Church on 92nd & Park. He also works as the operations administrator for the Resonant Bodies Festival, which, according to Sullivan, is an incredible new/contemporary vocal music organization.

Performance-wise, he’s working on submitting preliminary recordings for the Lotte Lenya Competition and for the Oratorio Society of New York solo competition. He’s also working on a developmental project with American Opera Projects, workshopping and ultimately performing a series of new mini-operas written by members of the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Workshop. He just recently did a few concerts with The Orchestra Now in New York (performing HK Gruber’s “orchestral pan-demonium” Frankenstein!! and Frank Martin’s Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann), and sang the solos in his first Bach B-minor Mass with the Blanche Moyse Chorale in Vermont.

The National Music Theater Competition (NMTC) was started in 2011 as the first national competition for the emerging professional music theater soloist. For Sullivan, the hardest part of preparation for it, by far, was selecting the repertoire.

“Choosing seven songs that varied in style/era/mood/tempo, showcasing as many different aspects of myself as a performer, while still relating to one another in a programmatic way…that was tough,” he said. “Once I’d settled on the repertoire, it became a matter of periodic study, getting the words and the stories back in my body (since I hadn’t visited most of the songs in several years). My routine is to sit down at my desk an hour or two before bed and silently study the scores, and then let my brain do its processing thing while I sleep. Putting the songs on their feet involved working both on my own and with Alisa, trying out different gestures or staging to see how I could best tell the story visually. For me, I have to approach it mentally from a place of playing, rather than a place of ‘blocking’, or else I get bogged down and discouraged. Thinking of the process as playing and just trying out new things helps me stay open minded and confident.”

And it served him well as he captured the title, which includes a winner’s concert at the upcoming NATS National Conference in Las Vegas.

“This competition win reinforced the philosophy, that I don’t have to be just a classical singer, but can remain open to this whole other world of vocal/theatrical performance,” Sullivan added.

Glenn Korff School of Music graduate Angela Gilbert finished in fourth place, winning the Bill Hayes Award.